Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Chiropractic vs. Physical Therapy: Finding the Right Solution for You

By July 29, 2023 chiropractic care
Woman having chiropractic adjustment. Chiropractic vs. Physical Therapy: Finding the Right Solution for You

For people who don’t know any better, the line between chiropractic care and physical therapy can get a bit fuzzy. After all, both of these treatment options are done by licensed healthcare providers who help you with pain management and mobility after an injury, right?

While there is certainly a decent amount of overlap between chiropractic and PT, there are enough differences for them to be treated as separate professions. Let’s take a look at the contrasts between a chiropractor and a physical therapist so that you can choose the right healthcare professional for you.

What Chiropractors Do

When you think, “chiropractor,” you probably envision back and neck pain solutions. That’s fair enough since licensed chiropractors are alternative healthcare professionals who spend a lot of time treating patients who suffer from chronic and acute back pain, neck pain, pinched nerves (including sciatic pain), and even recurring headaches and migraines.

The chiropractic method focuses on correcting misalignments in a person’s spine (also known as “spinal subluxations”), whether these misalignments have occurred in the upper (i.e. cervical), middle (i.e. thoracic), or lower (i.e. lumbar) back. Through their diagnosis of subluxations, chiropractors are trained to deal with the relationship between the bones, muscles, ligaments, tendons, and nerves of the spinal column.

Chiropractors study for years so that they can perform careful, gentle, and non-invasive corrections to a patient’s spine (typically referred to as a “chiropractic manipulation” or “adjustment”). These spinal manipulations are often made with an activator tool, which is a proprietary device that allows a trained professional to provide consistent and highly accurate pressure to a misaligned joint.

Chiropractic professionals also have detailed knowledge related to a holistic approach to wellness, including how nutrition, at-home stretching, a regular exercise program, and proper lifestyle decisions can affect your posture, nerve pain, and more.

What Physical Therapists Do

Also known as physiotherapists, physical therapists receive years of extensive training so that they can use their hands to help patients overcome functional limitations caused by injury (such as from accidents or other forms of traumatic injuries). PTs can also help their patients mitigate pain related to their injuries.

Most physical therapists are expected to treat a variety of patients suffering from a wide range of injuries. This means that PTs need to possess extensive knowledge regarding multiple forms of movement throughout the body, including not only the neck and back but also the leg joints and shoulders.

PTs can help treat sciatic nerve pain, damage to cartilage and other connective tissue thanks to sports-related injuries or repetitive motions, shoulder pain, and arthritic symptoms. Developing children who are dealing with musculoskeletal conditions may also benefit from physical therapy.

As in the case of some chiropractors, physical therapists are often hands-on in their rehabilitative care. This includes massage therapy, joint mobilization (i.e. helping patients stretch their affected joints), soft tissue mobilization, and demonstrating at-home movement exercises a client is expected to do in order to aid their recovery.

PTs can also offer advice and guidance to help patients reduce their risk of getting hurt or exacerbating their existing injuries in the future. This includes creating ongoing stretching regimens as needed for patients.

Similarities Between Chiropractic and Physical Therapy

As you can already guess, there are plenty of commonalities between the sciences of physical therapy and chiropractic treatments. Both fields of study deal with injuries and pains, especially in connection with the spine and other joints.

Professionals in both fields can only practice after receiving advanced college degrees (“Doctor of Chiropractic” and “Doctor of Physical Therapy,” respectively, neither of which is technically the same as “Medical Doctor”) and passing government-required board or licensing examinations. Both PTs and professional chiropractors are then certified to use non-invasive, non-surgical, drug-free methods for treating chronic pain conditions and mobility-related issues.

A chiropractor and a physical therapist are equally motivated to help you regain your full mobility and normal body function, and on the surface, even some of their methods for doing so may appear somewhat similar.

In addition, both professionals will take your whole lifestyle and future wellness goals into account when creating a comprehensive treatment plan or long-term care plan that’s right for you, including prescribing exercises.

There are a lot of ways that chiropractic therapy and physical therapy overlap in the roles they play in the lives of patients afflicted with acute or chronic pain.

Differences Between Chiropractic and Physical Therapy

With all that being said, there are plenty of distinctions between the two practices. Perhaps the greatest difference is methodology (i.e. approach to treatment).

Chiropractors focus on relieving pain and improving patient mobility by carefully correcting subluxations in the spine. Correcting misalignments in the joints can relieve pressure, thereby reducing joint pain and improving flexibility. Most chiropractors limit their approach to the spine (i.e. the back and neck).

Meanwhile, physical therapists focus more on helping patients through careful stretching (often including some form of joint manipulation), massage, and similar therapeutic methods. PTs prefer mobilization training rather than spinal adjustments. In addition, PTs don’t treat just the spine but also the appendages of a patient (e.g. fingers, shoulders).

In addition, there is a difference in the treatment philosophy of chiropractic services vs. physical therapy. Both of these kinds of medical professionals want you to reach your wellness goals, but chiropractors tend to focus on holistic outcomes (e.g. nutrition, posture) while PTs usually prefer to talk about how you can avoid additional injuries in the future.

Finally, you’ll often meet each of those practitioners in slightly different settings. Most chiropractors work in their own outpatient clinics, whereas physical therapists can be found in a variety of settings, from hospitals and clinics to colleges, high schools, and even assisted living facilities.

When You Should See a Chiropractor

So now comes the million-dollar question: when should you seek medical treatment from a chiropractic professional versus a physical therapist? While there isn’t an exact rubric for choosing between one specialist and the other, there are some basic things you can keep in mind regarding these differing treatment techniques.

For instance, chronic or acute spinal conditions not necessarily caused by specific sports injuries or other accidents might call for a chiropractic adjustment. He or she can determine the extent of your pain and perform a gentle yet effective spinal manipulation to adjust any misaligned spinal vertebrae, all done with the intention of restoring normal function. Similarly, a chiropractor can potentially help treat spinal nerve pain caused by a subluxation.

One thing to keep in mind is that some chiropractic clinics are cash-based; in other words, they will only accept out-of-pocket payments rather than your health insurance. Of course, this isn’t the case with every chiropractor, so be sure to check beforehand!

When You Should See a Physical Therapist

On the other hand, you might get more health benefits out of a physical therapist if you’ve experienced a previous injury that affects your overall mobility and range of motion during everyday life. Receiving medical care from a physical therapist can also be incredibly helpful following surgery, in which a PT can guide you toward rehabilitation and a return to the mobility you enjoyed prior to your operation.

You might also want to talk to a physical therapist if you’re worried about experiencing a future injury of some kind. PTs can utilize a combination of mobilization techniques to allay those fears.

Because PTs often work out of hospitals and similar facilities, you have a pretty good chance of finding a physical therapist who is an in-network provider for your health insurance for the form of treatment you’re seeking.

In the end, making an informed decision between the services of a physical therapist and a chiropractor comes down to your particular needs and the kind of care you’re looking for. Of course, if your insurance and amount of time in the week can manage it, pursuing complementary treatments from both kinds of specialists can also be immensely beneficial for your quality of life.

Contact Deep Roots Chiropractic Health Center to Schedule an Appointment Today

If you’ve decided you want top-notch chiropractic care that treats your pain in a neurologically based way, you need to contact Deep Roots Health Center today. Our chiropractic care specialists can help you recover from injury and start living pain-free for the first time in years!

Dr Ryan

Author Dr Ryan

Dr. Ryan Carlson is a leader within the chiropractic profession, as he teaches thousands of doctors on 4 continents every year how he is able to achieve such great results at Deep Roots Health Center. Originally studying to be a pharmacist, Dr. Carlson experienced firsthand the suffering that people go through when on the merry-go-round of Western Medicine, constantly being given another pill or surgery. In an effort to help fix our broken healthcare system, Dr. Carlson graduated from Northwestern Health Sciences University and opened one of Northwest Arkansas’ only neurological-based chiropractic offices, focusing on specific and scientific adjustments to help the NWA community with their health. Before opening Deep Roots Health Center, Dr. Carlson was honored to be hand-selected for a position in Southern California at one of the busiest and most esteemed chiropractic health centers in the world. Here, he worked closely with several types of patients: corporate executives, moms and families, babies and children, seniors, and even numerous professional and Olympic athletes. Dr. Carlson not only holds a prized Advanced Proficiency certification within his neurological-based technique system, but also has completed a post-graduate course in auriculotherapy from the American College of Addictionology and Compulsive Disorders in order to better serve those patients who struggle with different forms of addiction. Dr. Carlson is also a published author in an effort to better serve and teach other doctors all over the world how to provide exceptional care for their patients and communities.

More posts by Dr Ryan